FEATURE: Topaz Hooper

Topaz2018.jpg

I’m Topaz and I’m a plant-based vegan. I started my vegan journey in 2016 when I attended my local vegfest and watched a horrible documentary on animal cruelty. After that event, I couldn’t look at meat the same. I was already a vegetarian at that time but with the enlightening news that milk, cheese, and eggs are just as abusive to animals as meat production, I knew I had to get rid of them too.

I stay vegan because of the health and justice implications. I see eating cheese, milk and eggs as a related to feminist issues. When we rape and impregnate female cows for milk, I see that as equally destructive as the rap and impregnation of female humans. I like to see the intersections of these issues. I am a deep believer of collective liberation: the idea that we are not free until ALL of us are free. The same goes for my health. I see living a plant-based vegan lifestyle as a logical step towards extending my life expectancy as a Black American woman. The black community often suffers from illnesses and diseases that are brought on by our current American diet and easily preventable (and sometimes treatable) with a plant-based diet. My 99 year old grandmother is my inspiration. I’d love to make it 100 years old and live a life that is fulfilled, free of cruelty, and plant based.

If you too are interested in the intersections of feminism, food and justice, follow me on:

Instagram @AfroFeministaVegan1

Facebook Afro FeministaVegan  

Official Website, www.Afrofeministavegan.com.

FEATURE: Arial Shabri

20180523_123012.jpg

Options for tribalism growing up were fewer for me than exist for monoracial people, I gather.  There was no comfortably homogenous group into which I could retreat without question.  I am not entirely sure whether my parents’ expectations that I excel, or my own vague recognition that I was an “other”, drove me to embrace uniqueness from an early age.  Possibly it was a combination; in any case, this mindset offered some practice in existing distinctly from mainstream mores.

In early 2014 a new co-worker – an ethical vegan – arrived where I was interning.  After a polite exchange with her about plant and animal-based foods, I reflected on the short stint in college when I had adopted a vegan diet for about a month.  I’d learned about the cruelty of factory farming, but the challenges when interacting with others had ultimately worn me down.  I was “missing out” on certain foods and my family’s culture(s), felt I was being difficult at restaurants and in others’ kitchens… really, what difference did my little boycott make, anyway?

Realizing I’d learned a little something about supply and demand since then, I reconsidered the issue.  I delved into the internet – reading articles, watching YouTube videos… within days I was convinced that veganism was morally superior to carnism, and generally healthier for humans and the planet.  Hadn’t I wanted to save the world since the impressionable age of six, after all?  I had one last “humanely”-produced, non-vegan pizza dinner from Whole Foods, and went vegan the day after.

Eventually I stopped believing there is any humane or justifiable way to exploit or kill animals without a dire need.  This created tension with my concept of God.  Though I’d been seeking God beyond Christianity for years, I clung to the Eden story in defense of veganism (supposedly, all creatures were herbivores until The Fall).  Further thought and discussions revealed the holes in my presumption that God would not sanction unnecessary animal harm, at least according to “holy” texts from various faiths.  Meanwhile, I’d long noticed a YouTube channel that I’d been hesitant to click on – “The Vegan Atheist”.  The name alone was triggering.  I’d never given serious consideration to the possibility that there is no god, yet intellectual honesty demanded I do just that.  Truth is preferable to delusion, as veganism had affirmed.  Freedom is preferable to comfort, as my transition to minimalism (during a similar period) had affirmed.  I had come to value freedom and truth above almost all else, and they coincide.  I could no longer simply ignore arguments that opposed long-held beliefs.

Intellectual honesty demands a constant re-examination of our beliefs and values.  After exploring atheism I questioned my political and socioeconomic opinions.  Anarchy, anti-racism, and anti-oppression movements in general piqued my interest.  I began to see power struggles as a pervasive underlying dynamic driving most societies’ ills.  As with electric potential or hydraulic pressure, the more imbalance imposed, the more dramatic the phenomena in pursuit of equilibrium.  So then, the more we can dismantle hierarchies, the less tension there will be to fuel these struggles.  Power does not disperse without a fight, though, does it?  So, do we save the world (ourselves) by forcefully dismantling the current systems, trying to change them from the inside, or erecting parallel systems until the foundations of the oppressive ones are eroded?  Or should we try to walk away from it all and seek happiness in nihilistic solitude?  I imagine the answer depends on who you are and what you have to lose… who must be martyred and who must live to fight another day… who is even able to “fight” in the first place?

I wonder what I’ll learn next, how much more of an outlier I’ll become (biracial, vegan, atheist, poly-bi, introverted, etc.) ... how that will empower or challenge my communications with others about solutions to the world’s problems… and – the recurring existential crisis – what to do with my own life considering the world as it is now?  Surely there’s a happy medium between martyrdom and hermithood in rejecting the current system(s)?  Maybe making peace with death is part of empowerment… maybe just completing an entry into a STEM career as a female PoC is activism enough…

FEATURE: Gary Whitaker

IMG_3282.jpg

It all started one day when I was cruising Netflix and I came across the documentary Food Inc. It all started to make sense why so many people in my family were sick and died way before their time. I had three uncles that died before the age of 65. That was young In my opinion. My grandma on my mother's side died at 64. My grandmother on my father's side also died before 65. After seeing those members of my family leaving the planet, I knew that I had to do something to change the direction that we were going in.

While I was in college, I took a nutrition course and this also gave me some basic knowledge about food. I started to develop an interest in people that were living beyond 100+ years old and I started to pay attention to their diets. So, since my goal was to live to 250+ I started to pay closer attention to what was going into my body and the impact it was having. From the day I watched Food Inc, it gave me enough data to realize that we don’t need meat to survive. I took it a step further because I realized that I get joy from seeing people in good health, so I created my own personal training business in Oakland, California called Plant-Based Fitness. I also found out that there are not a lot of trainers who know how to educate their clients on losing weight and gaining muscle on a plant-based diet. 

Social Justice

I worked in schools in east Oakland, California and I taught in an after-school program teaching 3rd, 4th and 5th-grade kids about exercise and nutrition. The kids would always request to come to my class. I had young black children eating raw pasta and coming back for seconds. That leads me to believe that the issue resides in the adults because there are no kids buying groceries at the store. So from a social justice standpoint, we need to change the adults and then the kids will receive the benefits of generational health. 

Racism

Dealing with race and food is an interesting topic. The one thing I see is that in almost every black community that has been economically depressed, there are large amounts of liquor stores and gas stations. This directly contributes to the lack of fresh and healthy foods in these communities. It should be a crime to have that many liquor stores in a square mile. 

Animal Oppression

I believe that we all can exist on the planet without looking at certain animals as food. I always say to people there are 250,000 edible plants on Earth. It is up to us to find new and flavorful ways to enjoy life.

Social Media

Instagram: Plantbfit1
Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/djwrecckdaplantbase?ref=bookmarks (you might need a FB account to see this)
Plant-Based Fitness Gym Page: https://www.facebook.com/pg/Plantbfitness/about/?ref=page_internal
 

FEATURE: Valdemar Washington

IMG_1819.jpg

We all spend our lives looking for truth. Truth in relationships, truth in the world around us, and truth in our purpose on this planet. Yet, despite our longing to find truth, we are all so conditioned by society to such an extent that we don’t even realize it. We are trained to promote cruelty in ways that are so backwards and opposed to the search for truth and equality.

As a man and former college athlete, I always used to consider my meat consumption an integral part of my masculinity. I subscribed to the myth of needing copious amounts of protein to maintain lean muscle mass, and I was taught the deeply ingrained idea that REAL MEN eat meat - leave the vegetarianism and veganism for the women. I had NO IDEA how wrapped up in complete TOXIC masculinity I was simply by virtue of my food choices. You can’t call yourself a truth-seeker or someone who advocates for equality if you think like this.

I became a vegan a year ago when I watched “What the Health” on Netflix, followed by about four more documentaries. I also went on Wikipedia, Google, and YouTube all over the course of ONE DAY. I didn’t wake up that day expecting to be a vegan by the end of it. In fact, if you had asked me if I would ever go vegan before that day, I would have thought you were out of your mind (and I would have told you as much). But once you open your eyes and truly see the cruelty that you are promoting by your “lifestyle choices” it is impossible to ever go back. Sure, there are health benefits to a plant-based diet and I have reaped them in the last year being vegan, but my impact on the world is what has sustained me and is why I can never imagine going back to eating meat again.

To me, the best part of this lifestyle is knowing that I am doing my part to contribute to a better world. A world where we don’t put blinders on and continue to engage in things that we know are wrong. A world where made up social constructs don’t dictate what is normal or right. A world where we are closer to finding the truth that we all long for.

Social Media:

Instagram: @valdemarwashington

FEATURE: Akiyla Mc Queen aka Chef by Nature and Neptune Naga El aka Chef Supreme

image1 (1).jpeg

It has been 9 1/2 years since I’ve returned to the vegan life. My mom raised my sister and I off of a vegetarian/vegan lifestyle as children. It actually wasn't until I was about ten years old that I had my first piece of meat (chicken) from a family member, and fell in deep 😂. Since I was born into Islam, by the time I did try chicken, I still felt conflicted about eating pork so I never had the desire to eat it. The only beef I've ever eaten were cheeseburgers from McDonald's, and I decided early that sea animals were just not for me. So, chicken, turkey, dairy, and eggs were the animals that I consumed until I was reintroduced to the vegan lifestyle at 19 years old.

Some vegan friends of mine sat me and another friend of ours down and had us watch the documentary Earthlings. That one documentary alone was enough to snap us both back into reality. It offered a deeper explanation of why going vegan was important as opposed to the usual black mama tactics of my vegetarian mommy who would say “because I said so” and “you better not eat that poison" 😂. 

Needless to say I'm thankful to my friends because they not only reintroduced the lifestyle but they were also a VERY great support throughout the transition. They made meals for us, told us where we could buy food from, shopped with us and brought us fun treats like vegan cakes and cookies 😋. We became vegan over night and never looked back. 

Becoming vegan initially was about the mistreatment of animals. Then as I started to see changes happening within my body, health was added into the mix. It wasn't just someone telling me I would "feel" better but I actually did feel better. Prior to becoming vegan I had chronic ovarian cysts, really harsh PMS, and fainting spells. Changing the way I ate eliminated all of those things. I was starting to truly live. A few months after the change I did the Big Chop because now that I was cognizant of what I was putting in my body, I also didn't want to put poison on my body, and that included the types of products that I used on my skin. I started throwing away toxic products and introducing plant based/cruelty free products into my life, thus, fully embracing the vegan culture!

As time continued to go on, it also became the catalyst for my spiritual transformation. It awakened my souls purpose. It awakened my senses to the divine and I felt so much more clear. I had no idea that changing the way I ate would change me so much, and for me, it was for the better. So I give thanks to this lifestyle. It was one of the most important decisions I've made in my life and I have no regrets whatsoever. I have had 3 children with a fully vegan diet and all of our children are still 100% vegan. 

My love and I are on the same page on so many things, and eating plant based is no different. He is completely raw while I’m about 80% raw as well as the children. We believe that a high-to-completely-raw diet is optimal for health, and that eating should primarily be for our nutrition and not to just entice our tongues 😂 to later bother our bellies. We are both certified Raw Vegan Chefs and will be offering services very soon to help bring more awareness to eating raw living foods!

We have witnessed that living this way has increased our connection to nature, to people from all walks of life, and to respect animals as beautiful wisdom-filled beings that share this Earth with us. 

We also find it very important to help assist the evolution of consciousness on this planet and that comes with living a life that spreads love and light. 

Social Media

Instagram@avegansparadise - Chef by Nature
Facebook: Akiyla Mc Queen
Facebook: Neptune Naga El
YouTube channel: Akiyla Mc Queen

FEATURE: Lotta John

PICT_20180507_093632_2.JPG

I was raised vegetarian, but for a long time I wasn't aware that veganism is the only way to stop exploiting animals (cognitive dissonance...).
Four years ago that thinking process started when my mom went vegan. 
Now three of my siblings, my grandma, and even my boyfriend are vegan.

Why am I vegan?

Yes, animals are cute...and of course I like animals. And sure, a vegan diet can be healthy (which in my opinion, doesn't have much to do with it being vegan). But more than those reasons, my motivation for not eating meat is to respect life without being speciesist. I think speciesism, racism, and sexism are all based on similar thoughts. 

With my Instagram page, I try to challenge stereotypes surrounding who black people/vegans/women are, and what they look like. 

DSC08435.JPG

I don't wear makeup, I have muscles, and I'm obviously not suffering from a lack of protein. I want to motivate people to go vegan without pushing anyone - I want them to just see me as an example. 

I wish for a world where we don't have to buy commodities based on human or animal suffering. 

Social Media

Instagram: @lotta_john

FEATURE: Darrell D. West

IMG_20180422_192515_614.jpg

In 2011, I started the Major Taylor Cycling Club of Denver Inc. to help African American people lead an active lifestyle. I was already pretty healthy - or so I thought. The combination of eating anything and everything, along with a few unhealthy lifestyle habits, began to slowly me down significantly.

I initially began my plant based journey in hopes of getting off of the prescription medication I was taking for high blood pressure and cholesterol. After months of feeling run down, having headaches, foggy headed, just not feeling good in general and watching folks my age dropping dead from preventable diseases, I made the commitment to do anything in my power to get off the medication I was being prescribed. I was suffering from all the typical signs of your body being flooded with toxins.

My older brother and one of my childhood friends had already been living a plant based lifestyle. They never went overboard promoting a vegan lifestyle and didn't really say much about it other than turning down any thing with meat saying "no I don't eat that". I fired off text after text picking their minds about recipes and started doing my own research on the food we eat and how it's processed. Along the way I learned about how leading a plant based lifestyle is proven to reverse heart disease and diabetes. After years of taking my health for granted I made the commitment to myself to do everything possible to remain healthy for the long run.

Transitioning to a plant based lifestyle has lowered my blood pressure/ cholesterol and I no longer suffer from any of the symptoms I was previously experiencing. The best thing about a plant based lifestyle is the acceptance of the power you have within yourself, the ability to rely on oneself instead of always seeking help out of a situation. I have learned to embrace the uncomfortable moments and in those times dig deep inside and figure out what really matters in each situation. Meditation and exercise have been a huge help for me during the transition to a plant based lifestyle. I can truly say that I have regained control of every aspect of my life.

Social Media

Instagram: @hillside_herbivore

FEATURE: Moriah

black vegans rock.JPG

My story of becoming vegan is a little different . I grew up in a Christian sect that encouraged vegetarianism and veganism. Living a plant-based life was praised as peaceful and Godly. However, it wasn't until much later in adulthood that I made the choice for myself to become vegan.

During my first year of college, I started having health issues and had to be hospitalized. I had a chronic stomach issue. I reached a low point in my life. Dealing with illness shows you who your friends are, and who you are. As I sat on the hospital bed, I reflected on the years of my life and decided that moving forward, I would have the best life ever. I started to make changes to my diet and what I ate. By that time, I had flirted with vegetarianism, but decided to become fully plant-based. I cooked food at home. I went outdoors to exercise instead of working out indoors. I started a blog to document the food I ate.  

I had a lot of time to reflect and through my reflection decided to listen to my body. I found out that my body worked best eating a plant-based, vegan diet. 

As I learned more about veganism, and about the meat and dairy industries, I started to feel really good about what I was doing. I made even more changes in how I lived my life and became a full-blown vegan.
In some ways, you have to be a pretty strong and determined person. People had a lot to say about my change, and many were not accepting. However, I feel like becoming a vegan has bettered my health, the environment, and my community. 

Social Media

Instagram: @eatbrightliving